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Natural Materials For Basketry: Cattail


Stand of cattails in a swampy area. Susi Nuss  2001, all rights reserved - cattails.jpg (23911 bytes)TAXONOMY :

Subkingdom|Tracheobionta|Vascular plants
Superdivision|Spermatophyta|Seed plants
Division|Magnoliophyta|Flowering plants
Family|Typhaceae|Cat-tail family
Genus|Typha L.|cattail
Species|Typha latifolia L.|broadleaf cattail

Typhaceae - the cattail family consists of a single genus with three species In North America:

  • Typha latifolia L. - common broadleaf cattail
  • Typha angustifolia L. - narrow-leaved cattail
  • Typha domingensis Pers. - Dominican cattail

Samuel Curtis - Cattail (Typha Minor)
Cattail (Typha Minor)
Samuel Curtis
Buy This Art Print At
Framed | Mounted

Samuel Curtis - Cattail (Typha Major)
Cattail (Typha Major)
Samuel Curtis
Buy This Art Print At
Framed | Mounted


  • broadleaf cattail
  • common cattail
  • cattail broad-leaved
  • cattail soft flag
  • cat o'nine tails
  • Cossack asparagus
  • false bulrush
  • flags
  • rushes
  • reed mace
  • baco


  • TYLA


  • No special status


Cattails are an above water (emergent) large plant (macrophyte). They grow in shallow waters (less than 2.6 feet (80 cm) along the shores of the ponds, wet meadows, marshes and backwater areas of rivers and streams where seasonal flooding occurs. Cattails grow mostly in fresh water, but can also occur in slightly brackish marshes. They often form tall, dense stands that circle the edges of a pond or they can completely fill a pond. When stands of cattails die, the remaining organic material fills in a pond, making the pond more shallow. This condition makes the pond even more ideal as a cattail habitat. A “cattail meadow” can occur when this happens.


Common cattail has a nearly worldwide distribution. It grows in Africa, Australia, Central America, Great Britain, Eurasia, Japan, New Zealand and North America. It grows in arctic, temperate, subtropical and tropical regions in North America from central Alaska and northwest Canada to Newfoundland. They grow south through every territory, province and state to Mexico and Guatemala.


Cattail grows in the anoxic soil of marshes where there is little oxygen. Bulrushes (Scirpus), another emergent plant used in basketry, frequently grows in the same marshy area. Along water depth gradients, common cattail often grows upslope of bulrush or in open water but downslope of willow (Salix spp.), reed canarygrass (Phalaris arundinacea) and common reed (Phragmites australis).  When both common cattail and narrow-leaved cattail grow in the same area, they are frequently separated by water depth, with common cattail found in shallow water and narrow-leaved cattail in deep water.


Common cattail is an aquatic or semiaquatic, erect, rhizomatous (creeping rootstock), perennial herb. Each vegetative shoot gives rise to twelve to sixteen erect, flat, linear, basal leaves, which are 0.3 to 0.6 inch (8-15 mm) wide and 3 to 10 feet (1-3 m) tall. A system of interconnected, gas-filled chambers run the length of the leaves and stems called lucunae transfer oxygen from the leaves to the roots of the cattail. They have a brown cylindrical fruit with a velvety surface.


Gather cattail leaves at the end of the growing season once the leaves are full length, but before the tips begin to turn brown. Cut the leaf at the base with a sharp knife. Do not take all of any clump. Leave sufficient quantity to allow the clump to thrive. Once cut they must be dried before use to avoid excessive shrinkage. If you dry cattail in the shade they will keep their color. They will fade eventually with exposure to light. Try spreading the leaves on a screen door, tie and hang them in small bundles or string them to hang in a dry dark room with good ventilation. Covering the leaves with newspaper at night will keep the dew from accumulating on the leaves if they are dried outside. Gathering in August, might yield better quality with less spotting of the leaves but gathering in September provides the longest leaves. Choose the leaves that do not have the flower stalk so that the leaves separate easily. Wrap the dried bundles in a clean sheet to store them. Once dried, the leaves should be re-wetted and then wrapped in a moist towel to mellow before use.


Cattail leaves and stems have been used in basketry, cordage, braiding, chair seat weaving, thatching, rope making, paper making and matting. The techniques of plaiting, twining and coiling can be used to construct cattail baskets. Cattails have been used to make matting that functions as a building material to provide shelter.

Other Cattail and Natural Basketry Materials Resources:

Natural Basketry Materials Subject Page

Inspiring Images Of Cattail Baskets

Joan Carrigan, basketmaker
Twined Cattail Leaf Basket

Iris Leaf and Cattail Basket
Coiled Cattail Basket
Twined Wasco Cattail Basket

Plant Information

USDA Plant Information for Typha latifolia L. - Broadleaf Cattail
USDA Plant Guide - Broadleaf Cattail - in .doc format
USDA Plant Guide - Broadleaf Cattail in .pdf format
Broadleaf Cattail from Wildflowers of the Southeastern United States.
Close-up photo of Typha latifolia Typhacea by Gerald D. Carr
Narrow Leaved Cattail (Typha angustifolia L.)

Uses of Cattails

NativeTech Cattails and Grasses
Sewn Cattail Mats From NativeTech
Cattail Paper
Make Cattail Cordage From NativeTech


Natural Basketry by Maryanne Gillooly - a book review
Purchase Books About Natural Basketry

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